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Coalition discusses religious reasons for Medicaid expansion support


The South Dakotans Decide Healthcare coalition hosted a Zoom panel on Tuesday with religious leaders in South Dakota to discuss their support for Medicaid expansion.

Medicaid is a federal-state insurance program that helps pay for the health care of low-income people of any age. The Affordable Care Act passed during the Obama administration provided incentives for states to expand Medicaid eligibility.

South Dakota is one of the few states that has not opted in. Expansion would allow adults below or slightly above the federal poverty line to qualify for affordable health insurance coverage.

Constanze Hagmaier is the bishop of the South Dakota Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. She said 42,500 additional South Dakotans would qualify for Medicaid under the expansion.

“These identified individuals make too much money to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to afford private health insurance, so that means they fall through the gap,” Hagmaier said.

She said good health is an essential right of every person.

Hagmaier represents nearly 200 congregations in the state. The South Dakota Synod met at an annual meeting last June and passed a resolution to educate the congregation about supporting Medicaid expansion.

Sister Kathleen Bierne represents the Presentation Sisters of the Blessed Virgin Mary in South Dakota.

“We know that if people get health care at the basic level, it often keeps them from needing to have extended care later,” Bierne said. “It ensures that the individuals that do not have insurance, will have that access to preventative care.”

She said the state would receive millions of extra federal funding each year, which would help fund rural hospitals that are struggling to stay open.

Opponents of expansion, including the South Dakota chapter of Americans for Prosperity, say Medicaid expansion is too expensive. They also say its growth over time could force cuts to other parts of the state budget.

Medicaid expansion is on the ballot in November.

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